Twenty-five years, no hint of any problems, then a rumor pulled the rug out from under him.

"I just spent the morning with that advisor," said Russell Gebhard, president of Sovereign Investment Group in Houston. "He was with a wirehouse, and there was a rumor he was looking around for another firm. The company mentioned a vague violation of policy and he was let go, unceremoniously. They walked him to the door."

Such experiences are old news to Gebhard, who experienced nine different mergers or buyouts with major Wall Street firms during his first 14 years as an advisor.

"I would see people who had given so much to their firm betrayed almost daily," he recalled. "Advisors at those firms have no control over their careers."

In response, Gebhard left the wirehouse world in 2005 to form Sovereign. "I dreamed up an idea," he said. "I envisioned a place that would be the polar opposite of a wirehouse, with respect to culture." That dream apparently was shared. Twenty-three former wirehouse advisors, now independent contractors in Houston and in Corpus Christi, form Sovereign's team of wealth consultants. Those advisors currently manage over $800 million in client assets and Sovereign has become a leading branch of LPL Financial.

"We provide all the tools a broker needs to thrive," Gebhard said. "If the advisor is successful, it's more than likely the clients will be, too."

Moreover, successful Sovereign advisors can reap the fruits of their success. Gebhard said that his advisors might take home two or even three times as much money as they'd earn at a wirehouse, with a similar level of production, due to a leaner company structure at Sovereign.

Thus, some former wirehouse reps have seen Gebhard's dream fulfilled. "At the beginning," he said, "we added a three-person team, two sons and a father who was an industry veteran. The father was ill, and passed away shortly after the move. He was happy he had cajoled his sons to come here, because he didn't want to leave them where they were."

Another advisor was fired from the firm that Gebhard left to start Sovereign. "He was a trainee with a great work ethic," Gebhard said, "who was let go because of a lack of production. It turned out that he did a lot of work for a sales manager there, but the youngster was on the wrong side of a 90-10 split so he had no production to speak of. I told him that I had a home for him, and now he's one of our largest producers."

Such unethical practices won't be found at Sovereign, according to Gebhard. "I used to believe that the firm name on the card or on the door was what counted," he said. "Now I realize it's not about the firm but the people you work with and the relationships they develop."

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